Chef Under Cover coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Sean is finally getting a vacation for the first time in, well, ever. But just as he is about to walk out the door at work, he gets a call from his boss. The nationally famous star quarterback from the local college, Will Harrington, has injured his shoulder and his school physical therapists are not having luck treating him. The team is looking for a new therapist and have called Sean’s boss, who in turn is calling Sean to take over Will’s care. Sean is frustrated to have his vacation aborted and not particularly happy about having to adjust his schedule to meet the needs of an undoubtably spoiled and pampered athlete.

Will’s shoulder is in horrible pain and he can barely move, let alone throw a football. If this injury doesn’t improve, his chance at NFL greatness will be snatched away. But there is a secret part of Will that would be just as happy if he never plays football again. Football was never Will’s dream. His skill on the field seems to make everyone happy but Will himself. He can’t help but fantasize about what life would be like if football wasn’t an option for him. He could finally live life for himself and pursue his real passion in baking.

Things start off a little rocky between them men, as Sean can’t hide his frustration at having to treat Will. But Sean quickly realizes that while the people surrounding Will may be demanding, Will himself is sweet and kind and mortified at all the trouble his coaches and family are causing Sean. The pair also have an instant spark of attraction and the men are incredibly drawn to one another. But Will is closeted and also Sean’s patient, which means there can’t be anything between them. However, as Sean continues to treat Will, the men find that they can’t contain their attraction and soon begin to imagine what it could be like to really be together. But as Will’s shoulder improves and his football career is once again on the horizon, he must decide once and for all whether he want to continue to play, or if he is going to reach for the future he really wants.

Chef Under Cover is the fifth book in M.J. O’Shea’s Sizzle in the Kitchen series, but it works perfectly fine as a standalone. We do meet other characters who are clearly the MCs from prior books and spend a lot of time at the restaurant all the chefs work at. So folks who have read the other books will probably enjoy that more than a newcomer, but from a plot standpoint, I was fine jumping in here.

This is a sweet story about two likable men finding happiness together. There is a teeny bit of conflict early on between them, as Sean is annoyed at having to cancel his vacation and assumes Will is going to be a diva given the demanding nature of his coach and family. However, it resolves pretty much immediately when Will is genuinely horrified at the trouble Sean is going through and it’s clear none of this is by Will’s design. The guys have an immediate spark and are basically lusting after each other as soon as they meet. They don’t act on it for much of the book, both because of the therapist/patient situation and because Will is not out. So much of the book is a chance to see these guys being adoring and giddy over one another as they encounter each other around town, and then begin to seek each other out. There is a nice sweetness to both Will and Sean that makes them an appealing couple and makes the story a light, pleasant read.

There is a fairly large side cast here, including Will’s best friend, Jamie, and Sean’s senior citizen landlord/bestie, Percival. These are both sweet dynamics and I enjoyed seeing how each man interacts with their friend. It seems like Percival may have appeared in prior books in the series, as he is a regular at the restaurant the other MCs own/work at. As I said, we do spend some time with these other folks, as well as talking a lot about this restaurant, which did less for me than someone who is familiar with these characters. We also see Will and Sean go visit the guy with whom Will shared his first kiss. I am really not sure what this part adds to the story; the book is pretty short and, as noted below, doesn’t spend much time on some other seemingly more important topics (which is making me wonder if the ex is going to be a future MC and that’s why we take time out for this visit).

With the guys falling fast and hard, the conflict here is mostly centered around Will. He doesn’t like football and doesn’t have any real desire to continue playing (beyond his obligation to play for his last year in college to keep his scholarship). But Will is nationally famous and considered one of the best NFL prospects and he feels like he is sort of on this ride he can’t get off. Everyone has expectations of him and he can’t go anywhere without garnering attention and he just wishes it would all go away and he could focus on his real love in baking. I found this an interesting conflict and it is part of what drew me to the book, but I don’t think the story really ever takes things below surface level. The story sets this up as a major conflict. Will is such a star he can’t even go to therapy without them having to sneak him in away from the prying eyes of fans. He is expected to be a huge NFL superstar. And he hates football and can’t tell anyone he doesn’t want to play. But beyond the set up, we never really delve into the situation and how it developed. For example, I would have loved more detail into when and why he started hating football. Then, basically everything resolves off page with a few sentences recapping what transpired. We never see Will talk to his parents or his coach about football, his future career goals, being gay, or anything else. Given the whole conflict in the book rests on Will’s fear of telling everyone the truth, it felt so unsatisfying that we don’t actually see any of it resolve. Instead, we are just briefly told what happens afterwards.

The story also never resolves the whole Will is Sean’s patient problem. They don’t get together physically until Will is mostly better, but they are dating when they are still working together. So this gets raised as an issue, but then sort of dropped. I also couldn’t help but be a little confused about how Sean is supposed to be this rock star shoulder therapist given his age. We are told that he is about 28 and that he started college at 20. Physical therapists appear to generally need 7 years of training between college and an advanced degree (yes, I couldn’t stop myself from Googling out of curiosity), which means that Will would be maybe a couple of years out of school at most. Yet he is already supposed to be this amazing shoulder therapist and the best one this multi-location physical therapy practice has? After a team of therapists at Will’s school work on him for what seems like quite a while, he is still in so much pain he can barely walk without falling over and can hardly move. Yet, in basically a week he is feeling better after seeing Sean. I guess I could have gone with Sean as super doc a little easier if we spent any time developing this aspect of his character as a therapist, but again, it is just very surface level.

Overall, this one is a sweet and easy story. I was entertained and enjoyed both Will and Sean. I just feel like for a book that sets up these really complex and intense issues and decisions for Will, not enough time is spent developing them or seeing it all resolve. But I think fans of this series and those looking for a lighter-toned story with a foodie twist will find this one appealing.

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